Deep in our hearts what do we believe in these days? Do we believe the promises of our politicians? Do we deeply believe the claims of all the products advertised to us every day? Do we believe that we will find our soul-mates and be with them forever? Do we even really believe in God and in Jesus Christ?
Gospel Mark 6:47-56
47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he (Jesus) was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
I have seen Twitter and Face Book comments lately like this, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a mechanic.” The second part of that has many variations, like barn/horse, or hospital/doctor. They seem, on one level, to be innocent and funny observations, but there must be more to the reason for saying these things. It seems clear that people are seeing and meeting people who identify themselves as Christians, or church-goers, whose actions or attitudes make them wonder if they really believe. It isn’t that the statements are untrue. Obviously people can attend church regularly and not really buy in, or perhaps are unable to surrender their lives to the extent of making real change in their lives outside the church.
Jesus was traveling around with his disciples. These were people who had left their everyday lives with little or no warning to follow a man they barely knew. In a sense they were going to church every day. They were inspired by him, they were a little in awe of him. They were out to sea in a boat alone just after collecting 12 baskets of leftover bits of bread from the 2 loaves they had served to 5,000 men. They didn’t really understand what had just happened and I’m sure they must have been talking it over, at least until the wind came up and they had to concentrate all their efforts on staying afloat and headed in the correct direction.
This group of men then looked up and saw Jesus walking across the lake on the waves. They were shocked and frightened and cried out in fear. Jesus then went over and got in their boat and the wind calmed. From our comfy couches it is easy to be dismissive of these men who, after witnessing these two impossible feats, weren’t overwhelmed with faith! Why do we not read that they thanked him, worshiped him? Instead we are led to believe that he was met with something more like stony silence or mutterings of disbelief. What was wrong with these people?
I refer you now to the question at the beginning of the post. I think we are afraid to commit our heart to total belief in almost anything in fear of turning out to be wrong. When I married for the first time I firmly believed that it was for the rest of my life, wrong. I try hard to believe that someday there will be no bullying, but then I am faced with the hard reality of my experiences. Fear seems to trump belief.
If you read the Bible you will come across some form of the command, “Fear not!” 366 times (according to wiki.answers.com). Most people are, on some level, afraid of the dark, of the unknown etc. God knows this about us and realizes that before we can hear the Good News we need to set aside our fears to listen. If even his closest followers who actually witnessed all these things first-hand had trouble with fear, it is not surprising that we have difficulties. Like the man who prayed, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief!” we need to admit that we are afraid to believe but that we want to be open to that belief that will open our hearts to Christ Jesus!